Derek Sheffield

Mosses, Slugs, and Mount Rainier

Roethke’s last words to me: “Beefeater all right?”
–Nelson Bentley (1918 – 1990)


Leaning forward, cupping an ear
For every student reader, he loved a great refrain
Tinctured with mosses, slugs, and Mount Rainier.

When critics passed over his vision of rapture,
He licked a pencil and penned “Letter to Robert Hayden.”
Leaning forward, cupping an ear,

Students in the back row heard him swear
Roethke’s song could match the mind of Auden.
Tinctured with mosses, slugs, and Mount Rainier,

His classes spilled to the Blue Moon’s bar
For Bud and Blake and windows mottled with rain.
Leaning forward, cupping an ear,

He mouthed words like smoke, dusk, and cincture.
As the Denny clock rang another noon
Tinctured with mosses, slugs, and Mount Rainier,

He gave us our sonnets with circled clutter:
Omit? O, in every concise beauty, Nelson
Leans forward and cups a wakeful ear
Tinctured with mosses, slugs, and Mount Rainier.



“Mosses, Slugs, and Mount Rainier” is for Professor Nelson Bentley who taught at the University of Washington from 1952 to 1989. This poem was published in Limbs of the Pine, Peaks of the Range: Poems by Twenty-Six Pacific Northwest Poets (Rose Alley, 2007).

Derek Sheffield’s A Revised Account of the West won the Hazel Lipa Environmental Chapbook Award judged by Debra Marquart. His full-length collection was runner-up for the 2012 Emily Dickinson First Book Award. His poems have appeared in Poetry, The Georgia Review, Orion, The Southern Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review,  Terrain, and Wilderness, and he is the recent winner of an Artist Trust Literary Fellowship. He lives with his family outside Leavenworth, WA, and teaches poetry and nature writing at Wenatchee Valley College.

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